(My Bristol write-up was getting a bit long, so I’ve split it in two: General Impressions here and Highlights to follow)
Last weekend myself and my other Bumblemoo compatriots Wren and Banemoo went along to the Bristol International Comic Expo. It was a first for me and Banemoo, although Wren had been once before. Seeing as I was introduced to comics through manga, and have since gained a love of small press work and non-manga comics too, I saw Bristol as a good opportunity to pick up some exciting new books to read and get out of my comfort zone of sailor suited high school girls and mechs (hmm…sailor suited mechs? anyway…)
The Expo was held in two hotels this year: the Ramada Plaza held the main event and the Mercure held the Small Press Expo. Luckily both hotels were only 2 minutes walk from each other and a 5 minute walk from the train station, making the event very easy to find.
When we got there we had a choice of two free comics to collect – I chose this little number with the Simon Bisley cover:
But free comics aside, our general impression of the Expo was more one of a series of fantastic dealers’ rooms to look around, rather than somewhere we might have wanted to spend two whole days. There weren’t many panels we were particularly interested in - we don’t really keep abreast of industry affairs and we’re not ‘inside’ enough to know which creators are which in the flesh, and who would be the most interesting to listen to. However, taking another look at the website after we got back home, I think I would pay more attention to the panel lineup if I was going to visit again and try to attend at least a couple of them. It might actually be more fun to attend as a creator, so time could be spent meeting and socialising with other creators in a more relaxed way.
As someone who didn’t know what any of the more famous comic creators looked like, I found it quite difficult to navigate around the different artists offering sketches. It was quite crowded in the Ramada where the main event was held (an atmosphere not helped by a lack of opening windows or adequate air conditioning), so most of the bigger name artists’ tables were obscured by a cluster of people queuing for sketches or signatures, and more people trying to squeeze past. The only artist we knew that we wanted to search for, to perhaps request a sketch, was Simon Bisley. However we couldn’t find either him or a table with his name on it so we gave up in the end.
Even though we didn’t end up participating in any ‘special’ con activities like panels or signings, we still had a great time and came away with some really unique purchases! I would still recommend going to the Bristol Expo to anyone who enjoys UK small press comics (and assorted mainstream publishers, and related paraphanalia), as you just won’t find the same kind of collection of niche and hard-to-get items this side of the internet. And unlike the internet, where you would have to order and pay shipping from many individual websites, everything at Bristol is under one roof (well two rooves, but who’s counting?)
Away from the more crowded hallways, foraging through the work of a lot of the indie publishers in the dealers’ rooms was a fascinating experience; there were so many different styles of art on show, from heavily inked horror through wordy thought-provoking comics to lighthearted bits of fluff. Most artists and publishers were very happy for people to flip through a copy of their comic and most were unobtrusively friendly and helpful. However, to those pushy sellers who would repetedly take me through a comic’s extra features and tell me I’d get a free sketch if I’d just buy it, please try to cool off a bit or I’ll be too busy trying to get away from you to notice how good your comic is.
One thing I did notice, which might spark some discussion if people don’t agree with me, was that quite a few of the indie and small press comics seemed a little bland and archetypal. Things like anthologies of ‘Zombies’ or ‘Werewolves’ or ‘The Girly Comic’. Seeing titles like this immediately puts me off the comic. Even if it turns out to be an amazing anthology of varied work, I wouldn’t know as the title would have made me think it was boring and mainstream, like being spoon fed some kind of single flavour food that the sellers know that fans will buy, similarly to Hollywood churning out blockbuster sequel after blockbuster sequel. What was interesting to me about this was that it was the indie publishers who seemed to be doing it most, and I would have thought they would be the ones being more experimental.
…and if they are in fact being quite experimental, as my brief perusal of ‘The Girly Comic’ website seems to hint at (one of the shorts in issue one covers what you might do if you had your own gimp?), then maybe they could try using a name that doesn’t make it sound like their comic was written for male geeks to buy in order to ‘get their girlfriend into comics’ Cosmo-style.
(Disclaimer: I’m more making a general point about bland derivative works rather than saying ‘The Girly Comic’ in particular should change its name, in fact the more I peruse the website the more I want to read an issue of ‘The Girly Comic’…although I’m still kind of hoping it will turn out to be a joke name and actually be full of robot stories ^_~ )
Robot love aside, next up will be my personal highlights of the Bristol Expo, so please stick around for that ^_^